Canti VI, Bruto Minore – Leopardi



Giacomo Leopardi

Canti VI, Bruto Minore

Translated by Steven J. Willett


After Italian Valor, lying in Thracian dust

an immense ruin,

had been uprooted, then in the valleys

of green Hesperia, on Tiber’s shore,

Fate prepares the tramp of barbarian horse,

and from naked forests

oppressed by the freezing Bear,

calls forth the Gothic swords

to overthrow Rome’s renowned walls;

sitting alone, soaked in brothers’ blood,

through black night in a desolate site, Brutus is

determined to die, and the implacable

gods and Hell itself he accuses

with savage cries

and strikes the somnambulant air in vain.

Fatuous Valor, the empty mists, the fields

of unquiet phantoms

are your schools, and behind you strides

remorse. To you, marmoreal gods,

(whether you reside in Phlegethon

or the clouds), to you a laughingstock and mockery

is the miserable race

from whom you extort temples and a fraudulent

law insulting to mortals.

Is heaven’s wrath, then, so provoked

by terrestrial piety? and do you then

sit, Jove, impiety’s protector? and when storm clouds

exult through the air, and when

you hurl the swift thunderbolt,

do you cast the sacred fire on the just and faithful?

Invincible destiny and iron

necessity crush the sickly

slaves of death: and if nothing avails to end

their indignities, the common man

takes comfort in their necessity. Is the evil

without cure less harsh? Does he feel no grief

who’s stripped naked of hope?

War to the death, eternal, o ignoble fate,

the valorous man wages,

incapable of surrender; and your tyrannical

right hand, victorious as it bears him down,

indomitable he shrugs off with a valiant show,

when in his noble side

the bitter blade runs with blood,

and malignly he smiles at the darkening shadows.

He displeases the gods who violently breaks

into Tartarus. No such courage

could be found in their feeble, eternal breasts.

Perhaps our torments, perhaps our

bitter accidents and wretched passions heaven created

as a pleasing spectacle for their idle hours?

Not between calamities and crimes,

but free in the forests and pure

Nature appointed us,

once our queen and goddess. But since on earth

impious custom has destroyed the blessed realms

and subjected our miserable life to other laws;

when a virile soul rejects

his luckless days

does Nature return, and accuse the arrow that’s not hers?

Ignorant of guilt and their own misfortunes

are the fortunate beasts;

serene old age guides them

to an unforeseen passage.

But if they dash their foreheads

on rough tree-trunks or from a mountain cliff

cast bodies headlong to the winds,

moved by their anguish,

against that miserable desire would stand

no arcane law

or shadowy conception. You alone, among the numerous

progeny that heaven created, alone among all,

children of Prometheus, regret life.

Alone o wretched ones, to you Jove bans,

if sluggish fate delays,

the shores of death.


And you, from the sea stained by our blood,

you rise bright moon,

and explore the unquiet night and the deadly

battlefield of Italian Valor.

The victor tramples on kinsmen’s breasts,

the hills shudder, from her highest summits

ancient Rome collapses—

and are you so placid? You saw the birth

of Lavinia’s offspring, and their years

of happiness, and the memorable victories;

and on the mountain peaks you pour your immutable

silent light when, in the wreck

of the servile Italian name,

this solitary place will echo

beneath the barbarian tramp.

Here among naked rocks or on green boughs,

beast and bird,

breasts heavy with their habitual oblivion,

ignore the profound ruin and the altered

destiny of the world: and as the rooftop

of the industrious peasant first glows red,

with its morning song

the one will wake the valleys, while through high slopes

the other will startle the helpless multitude

of smaller creatures.

Oh destiny! oh insensate race! we are an abject

part of things; neither the bloodstained soil

nor the howling caves

has our calamity ever perturbed,

and no human cares stain the stars.

Neither to Olympus’ or Cocytus' deaf

kings, or to the unworthy earth,

and not to the night, in dying, do I appeal;

nor to you, the last flicker of black death,

a conscious future age. Will weeping

placate the disdainful man’s tomb, words and gifts

of the vile crowd adorn it? The times

precipitate to the worse; uselessly we assign

to our corrupt descendants

the honor of eminent minds and the supreme

vindication of the suffering. About me let

the wings of the dark voracious bird sweep;

the wild beast crush me, and the tempest

carry off my unknown remains;

and the wind welcome my name and memory.

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4 Responses to Canti VI, Bruto Minore – Leopardi

  1. Deap says:

    …..“Perhaps our torments, perhaps our
    bitter accidents and wretched passions heaven created
    as a pleasing spectacle for their idle hours?……..”

    Reminds me of the choice – fate is what life hands us; destiny is what we choose to do with it. The “other sides” passions also have right to exist, as much as ours. And prove themselves in the court of public opinion. ……and the amusement of the gods.
    WSJ has a good op-ed. Over time when the Trump personality is removed from his actions, the Trump presidency will be not only fundamentally transformational; but even nostalgically missed. Trump took his fate and created his destiny. And ours along with it. We thank him for letting us share this short ride with him.
    Now let the gods toy with our souls, yet again.

  2. Fourth and Long says:

    One of my all time favorite writers. Loved his Operetta Morale in my youth. They translated and released much or all of his Zibaldone a few years ago. A staunch Italian patriot. Seems his mother was not too nice. A shame he’s not more widely recognized. My Italian friends say it’s still cool to admire his poetry but that his other work is considered too adolescent. Prodigy at languages. Crippled with severe scoliosis. Died before age 40. Contemporary of Gogol – wonder if they met as Gogol spent much time in Italy.

  3. walrus says:

    Thank you.

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